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Posted at 12:09 PM ET, 02/13/2012

Mars program takes a hit in NASA’s flat budget

As expected, NASA’s budget axes a partnership with the European Space Agency that was to send two robotic probes to Mars later this decade. With the agency’s budget declining 0.3 percent to $17.7 billion, the Mars program lost out to the massively over-budget James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope. The Webb will continue toward a 2018 launch.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), a prime champion of the new telescope, cemented congressional support for the project last fall after House Republicans threatened cancelation. Baltimore will be home to the telescope’s operations center.

The Mars program – begun in the 1990s as a long-term campaign to explore the planet and search for signs of past life – will be cut from $587 million to $361 million.

In human space flight, NASA will continue funding a giant new rocket and a deep space capsule for eventual exploration beyond Earth; those projects eat up $3 billion. Another $830 million will continue a program launched by President Obama in 2010 to jump-start commercial companies striving to build new rockets and capsules that will eventually send astronauts to the international space station.

The budget also reduces funding for “lowest priority and less effective” NASA education programs by $36 million, to $100 million.

Some $200 million in savings will come from administrative streamlining and disposal of old facilities. Some 80 percent of NASA’s buildings are older than their planned life.

The budget request is the lowest for NASA in four years.

By  |  12:09 PM ET, 02/13/2012

 
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